OTHER POETRY TRANSLATIONS

TRAVEL COMPLAINTS (“Дорожные жалобы”, fragment)

By Alexander Pushkin (1829)

 

Maybe pestilence will snatch me,
Maybe frost will bite me dead.
Or a roadblock arm will catch me
As it drops down on my head.

Maybe on a forest route
I will face a ruthless slayer.
Maybe boredom snuffs me out
In a quarantine somewhere.

 

FROM FINLAND (“Из Финляндии”, fragment)

By Sasha Cherny (1909)

 

Crazy water, wildly whirling,
With a sympathetic grin,
Told me: “If you’re smart but hurting
“Do it, sugar. Jump right in!”

“Ha! What makes you think I want to?
I’m here on vacay!”
As I walked away, the water
Whispered to my back: “Some day.”

 

ALEXANDER THE GREAT (“Александр Великий”)

By Valery Bryusov (1899)

 

In my restless aspiration
For another, grander fate
I now pray in veneration
To you, Alexander the Great.

 

Not amidst the blood and fighting
By an ancient Persian town
You have earned my praise, oh Mighty,
As the greatest hero found.

 

You deserve my great affection
In the hour of discord.
There were shouts of insurrection,
Mutiny against the Lord.

 

Like the sun you faced your army,
Blinding soldiers with your flame.
Macedonians in a hurry
Feebly backed away in shame.

 

You proclaimed: “You need reminding
What you were and what you are!
In the forests you were hiding,
Roamed the land beneath the stars.

 

Then my father forged the phalanx,
Gave our people a new dawn.
You marched with me to the Ganges,
Sardis, Susa, Babylon!

 

Think that I was crowned somewhere
By the mercy of your swords?
Darius has made me heir!
By this scepter, I’m the Lord!

 

Fine! Go home! Forget the glory!
Get your weapons, fold your tents.
Tell your children magic stories
Of the distant foreign lands!

 

How you marched through brutal weather,
Highlands, deserts, suffering…
But be sure to remember
You, abandoning your king!

 

By your families be summoned
And enjoy your fame and wealth.
The eternal son of Amun
I’ll remain here by myself.”

 

Drunken halls and burning incense.
Gold and silk breathe out a sigh.
In Roxana’s hands the incense
And the rage subside and die.

 

King of both Egyptian crowns!
King of seventeen domains!
Amun at you staring down
With the symbols of his reign.

 

Crowds and chariots fell silent.
Fog has fallen on the plain.
Yet at dawn the camp is strident,
Noisy, clattering again.

 

In the fields – despondent shrieks and
Pleas of falling, dying men.
Did the Proud One give, in secret,
His night dreams one last lament?

 

Oh my restless aspiration
For a greater destiny!
In the hour of hesitation,
Alexander, I pray to thee!

 

THE DEBATE (“Спор”)

By Mikhail Lermontov (1841)

 

Once upon a time, surrounded
By their mountain mates,
Elbrus and Kazbek, two mountains
Held a great debate.

 

Elbrus said “Beware, brother!”
To Kazbek again,
“You are bound to be another
Conquest of the Man.

 

“He will build his smoky cabins
On your sacred ground.
In the darkness of your canyons
A chopping axe will sound.

 

“And a band of iron shovels
Will begin to cut
Gold and copper, mines and tunnels
Out of your gut.

 

“Caravans now brave the rocks
And the giddy brinks,
Once inhabited by fogs
And the eagle kings.

 

“Men are clever. Even though
Their first leap was hard.
The East is mighty, and this foe
Do not disregard!”

 

“By the East I am not scared,”
Kazbek then replied.
“It’s been — for eight hundred years —
Sleeping on its side.

 

“See there:  sycamores burgeon
And divans recline.
On his pants a sleepy Georgian
Spills his garnet wine.

 

“See how, sprawling on a cushion,
In a hookah haze,
By the fountain, insouciant
Tehran passes days.

 

“There, by Jerusalem’s skyline,
Scorched by God’s own hand,
Lies inanimate and silent
Ever-sleeping land.

 

“Farther, never knowing shadow,
Ancient Nile bathes
Burning stones of the yellow
Steps of royal graves.

 

“A Bedouin no longer bothers
With his battle cry,
Singing glory of his fathers,
Gazing at the sky.

 

“Everywhere my eye wondered,
Languishes, appeased.
No!  I will not be conquered
By the flailing East!”

 

“Don’t you be so haughty, brother,”
Elbrus said to him.
“In the North you may discover
Something rather grim.”

 

Kazbek was, without a doubt,
By this news upset.
To the North he turned to scout
And assess the threat.

 

In bewilderment he stares
At the moving mass,
Hears clamoring and blares,
Sees the shining brass.

 

He observes a great commotion:
From the blue Danube
To the Ural spreads the ocean
Of the marching troops.

 

Splendid plumes like wild flowers
Waver in the gusts.
Lancers trot in their bright colors,
Raising up the dust.

 

Charging horses and the rattle
Of the batteries.
Fuses lit before the battle
Fuming in the breeze.

 

They are led by a gray-haired
General-in-Chief.
Heavy eyelids, and the flares
Fly from underneath.

 

Like a river flowing loud,
Regiments march forth,
Fearsome like thunderclouds
Eastward from the North.

 

So Kazbek, a mighty mountain,
Gloomy and morose,
Started desperately counting
But could not count his foes.

 

Desperate, he looked around
With a wretched wince,
Put the cloud over his brow
And was silent since.

 

A DEDICATION TO MY OWN BELOVED SELF (“Себе, любимому, посвящаяет эти строки автор”)

By Vladimir Mayakovsky (1916)

 

Three words
Heavy as a blow:
“Render unto Caesar.”
That’s fair.
But what about me?
Where should I go?
Where should I make my lair?

 

I wish I were small
Like an ocean!
I’d reach for the moon on the tiptoes of tides.
Where can I find a lover
To match my emotion?
She wouldn’t fit in the tiny skies!

 

I wish I were poor
Like a billionaire!
The thief inside can’t be bought with gold.
The horde of my desires would strip bare
All the goldmines of the world!

 

I wish I were incoherent
Like Dante’s rhyme of
Beauty.
Scorching my soul in her face!
My words and my love
are the Arch of Triumph:
The girlfriends of all eras march through it
With splendor but without trace.

 

I wish I were quiet
Like a thunderbolt!
I’d shiver and shake the Earth’s ancient mound.
My roaring voice would make comets fall
They’d raise their burning hands,
And in anguish dive down!

 

I wish I were dim
Like the sun!
My eyes chew up the night with their rays.
Would I care to bestow upon everyone
In this barren land my shining blaze?

 

I drag this loveload, without reprieve…
By what night of fever dreams and delusions,
By what Goliaths was I conceived,
A man so big and so useless?

 

THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE (“Бруклинский мост”)

By Vladimir Mayakovsky (1925)

 

Hey, Coolidge!  Give out
A joyful shout!

 

Now
like the Soviet flag’s fabric you can
blush,
as I spare no praise
for your super-duper American
United
States!

 

Like a fanatic
to church
stumbles,
Becomes a hermit
without a flinch;
That’s how
in a grayish twilight, humble
I step onto
the Brooklyn Bridge!

 

Like a conqueror
into a fallen town
Rides a cannon,
victory clinched;
That’s how,
in glory and lust unbound,
I step onto
the Brooklyn Bridge!

 

Like a mad artist
in a museum
Devours a Madonna,
his loving eyes twitch;
That’s how,
studded with stars,
I see it:
New York City –
through the Brooklyn Bridge!

 

Till nightfall New York is humid and feeling
Stifled,
as it heavily sighs.
Only the transparent souls of buildings
In the glow
of windows rise.

 

Here the subway buzzes along,
And from this buzzing sound you know:
The train keeps slowly rattling on,
As if somewhere
cutlery
is being stowed.

 

A ship that carries sugar to shops
From the mouth and up the river;
Its masts below
seem from the top
Like little dress pins,
no bigger!

 

I am full of pride in this steel mile!
My vision’s living realization:
The triumph of Structure over Style,
The steel and bolts’ stern calculation.

 

So if there’s ever the End of Days,
Chaos
on the planet will reign,
And over the dust and the decay
Only this rampant
bridge
will remain,

 

Like dinosaurs,
extrapolated
From tiny bones,
in museums
amaze
From this bridge
a geologist
later
Will recreate our present days.

 

He will say:
“This steel claw fastened
The seas and prairies
together!
From here Europe
charged
westward
And blew away
Indian feathers.

 

“Then came the machines.
Now imagine
This machine with a metal rib
Setting its iron foot on Manhattan
And pulling Brooklyn
by the lip!

 

“From this braided cable hair
I recognize the Post-Steam Era
Men shouted
on the radio here.
Men soared
on the aero there.

 

“Here life
to some
was full of joy
To others –
a hungry howl of woe.
From here the unemployed
jumped
into the river below.

 

“And then my picture gets perfectly clear:
Up strings and cables,
a star-bound course,
I see
Mayakovsky
standing here
And crafting his poem,
verse by verse.”

 

I stare at it, like a man bewitched.
I suck it in, like a parasite…
The Brooklyn Bridge:
that’s something,
alright!

 

THE NOBEL PRIZE (“Нобелевская премия”)

By Boris Pasternak (1959)

 

I’m a beast corralled for slaughter
Freedom shines so far away…
Here the hounds are getting closer,
As the hunt is underway.

A lake’s edge, a somber forest,
An old tree log lying there…
No way out. I am cornered.
Come what may. I do not care.

What’s my crime, now? Tell me bluntly!
Murder? Treason? Something worse?
At the beauty of my country
The world was weeping – from my words!

Even in my dying hour
I believe it stronger still:
Malice will be overpowered
By the spirit of Good Will!